ST. PAUL, Minnesota (CNN) - John McCain insisted Tuesday his vice presidential vetting process was thorough, as his campaign tried to calm concern that more surprises about Sarah Palin were coming.
To that end, a source intimately involved in McCain's VP vetting process called CNN to give an account of her background check.
This official said a 25-person team, led by Washington attorney A.B. Culvahouse, started by compiling reports on 20 top VP contenders, using only public documents like disclosure forms, public records, newspaper articles, and interview transcripts.
That information was eventually presented to McCain, and to top campaign advisers Mark Salter, Steve Schmidt, Charlie Black and Rick Davis, the only four aides involved in the highly secretive process.
Once McCain and those aides narrowed the choices to a short list, Palin and other contenders were contacted and asked for documents a credit check, a call for tax returns, and additional financial disclosure forms.
The official tells CNN that all of those on the short list – including Palin – were asked to answer 70 “intrusive” questions, including: Have you ever paid for sex? Have you ever been fairly or unfairly accused of sexual harassment? The questions were also described as some basic queries now asked of presidential nominees, like whether or not they ever hired illegal workers or neglected to pay taxes for nannies.
In one of her answers, Palin told McCain aides about her husbands DUI arrest 22 years ago.
Then, Culvahouse himself, along with a few associates, interviewed Palin for three hours. During that interview, she revealed her teenage daughter's pregnancy - and was warned it would become public if she were picked. "She said she'd have those conversations with her daughter," the official familiar with the conversation tells CNN.
From the start of the vetting process, one red flag was a state investigation into whether Palin improperly dismissed Alaska’s Public Safety Commissioner for not firing her ex-brother-in-law.
CNN has been told McCain investigators spent considerable time looking into the so-called “Troopergate” affair - interviewing Palin's lawyer, and quietly talking to others involved - and decided the facts were on her side.
This source, who was intimately involved in vetting Palin, admitted that aside from interviewing some of the figures involved in Troopergate, they did not talk to character witnesses in Alaska, and did not look at clips about her from the newspaper in her hometown of Wasilla, because it is kept on microfilm and was hard to view without compromising their secrecy.
CNN is told that Culvahouse, one of Washington’s widely respected power lawyers, was called by McCain one last time before he officially asked Palin to join him on the Republican ticket. The presumptive Republican nominee asked Culvahouse if, based on what he unearthed, he was confident the little-known Alaska governor's background would withstand scrutiny – and was given a confident go-ahead by the attorney.
But it is unclear whether Culvahouse gave McCain any political advice on whether Palin is a qualified or wise choice, or left that to the small group of political advisers involved.
The McCain camp would not reveal precisely when this vetting process had taken place, how long they had spent on it, or who else was vetted.
However, sources close to Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tell CNN they were all put through at least the first stage of short list vetting.
McCain himself only met Palin in person once, at a National Governors Association meeting in February of 2008, and spoke with her by phone on another occasion two days before bringing her to Arizona to offer her a spot on the GOP ticket.